Three ACSD towns approve SOS referenda

RIPTON — Voters in three of the Addison Central School District’s seven member-towns support the notion that school board members should only be elected by their fellow townspeople, and that a local school should only be closed if a majority in its host community elect to do so.
That was the takeaway in the towns of Ripton, Salisbury and Shoreham, which held non-binding votes on two petitioned referenda on March 3 that the ACSD board had declined to warn (due to legal advice) on its own ballot.
Residents in a fourth ACSD town — Cornwall — defeated both questions at their annual gathering, though only by a narrow paper ballot vote on the second question.
The referenda asked respondents if:
•  Individual towns should be given the exclusive right to elect their own delegates to the 13-member district board. Board members are currently elected at-large.
•  A local school should only be closed if a majority of voters in its host-town agree to do so. As it stands, a super-majority of the ACSD board can vote to close a school.
A fifth ACSD town — Weybridge — decided that rather than ask residents to vote it would survey townspeople on the two items. The survey results were still being tabulated as the Independent went to press on Wednesday.
On Jan. 21 ACSD board members unanimously rejected both SOS petitions, based on the advice of their attorney Christopher Leopold of the firm McNeil, Leddy & Sheehan. Leopold advised that the petitioned request that ACSD board members only be voted by the residents of their respective hometowns would, if approved, violate the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause that mandates “proportional representation.”
Leopold also cited the 2018 Vermont Supreme Court case “Skiff v. South Burlington School District” and provisions of Chapter 16 of the Vermont State Statutes that led him to advise the ACSD board that it needn’t warn the question about requiring a host town to vote on the proposed closure of its school. That’s because, according to Leopold, “the electorate’s authority is confined to the election of district officers, including school board members, the approval of the budget, including salaries for board members, the sale or lease of school buildings, and the authority to borrow.”
The district school board does have the authority to warn such petitions if it chooses to.
Joanna Doria of Ripton is a leader of Save Our Schools, a citizens group that gathered more than 800 signatures to place the two referenda on the March 3 ACSD ballot. Members of the group wanted to change the articles of agreement that created in the ACSD in 2016, in a manner that would give local towns more of a say in the potential closure of schools and the manner in which delegates are elected to the ACSD board.
When the ACSD board declined to warn the referenda, SOS members asked selectboards in the seven district towns to place them on their respective town meeting agendas. Four towns agreed and a fifth town — Weybridge — allowed its residents to answer the questions as part of a survey. That survey was still being tabulated as the Independent went to press on Wednesday.
“Although it’s disappointing to learn of the results in Cornwall, I have to say that we, in the end, are happy that one goal of the petitions — that space and time for important conversations be made available — was realized and that so many people across our district were able to participate,” Doria said through a Wednesday morning email. “Since the referenda are not binding, we don’t expect much to be done with the results, but we do hope the (ACSD) board recognizes the overwhelming support they received from Salisbury, Ripton and Shoreham and the very close vote in Cornwall. We hope that this information brings nuance to the data currently being collected that will ultimately inform their decisions regarding the facilities master plan.”
Here’s how the four ACSD communities voted on the two referenda:
• Salisbury voted 268-59, by Australian ballot, in favor of the notion board members should only be elected by the voters of his or her hometown. They voted 241-87 in favor of a mandated local vote on school closure.
•  Ripton passed the “vote only on your local school delegate” question by a 216-27 tally. The proposed mandate of a local vote on school closure passed by a 196-32 tally.
•  The 88 people at Shoreham’s annual gathering unanimously voted in favor of both SOS petitioned items, according to Town Clerk Julie Ortuno.
•  Cornwall residents defeated the “vote only on your local school delegate” question by voice vote, according to Town Clerk Sue Johnson. The proposed mandate of a local school closure vote lost by a 44-46 paper ballot tally, Johnson said.
It remains to be seen how the ACSD board will react to results of the advisory referenda in the four towns. Peter Conlon, chairman of the ACSD board and a member of the Vermont House, couldn’t be reached for comment as the Independent went to press on Wednesday.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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